Funny story: Two years ago, I walked into my office after a long vacation, sat down and prepared for my weekly meeting with my team, and was promptly fired.
I thought it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. It was traumatic, emotional and reinforced my worst fears and insecurities about myself. It impacted the way I treated myself and others for months to come. I questioned my value, I even questioned when things were good (when things are a little too calm, there must be something about to blow, right?). I dealt with Imposter Syndrome, anxiety and trust. I worried I would be viewed as a failure, that I would never work in the business again. I looked for openings at the local electronics store where I’d worked in college, thinking that’s where I belonged.
I had no idea that being fired would be such a pivotal and positive turning point in my career, that it would inspire me to double down on what I thought was important — kindness, respect and authenticity — and seek out a place that would let me lead with those things in mind. I didn’t find it right away — that took another year and a half — but I found it, and I’ve learned in the last two years that being who you are is not something you should apologize for if your intentions are to help the people around you and ensure they are supported and loved. I’ve made a ton of mistakes in my career, I’ve learned a lot about what to do by seeing people do it wrong, and I’ve found myself on the losing side of many arguments at multiple agencies, but I don’t regret a single position I’ve taken, and I’m more confident than ever than I’ve been on the right side of things more often than not.
In the last two years, I’ve learned the power of being good to people, of helping them when there’s nothing in it for you, and accepting the help from others without the ability to repay them. I’ve learned the importance of being real with people, not bullshitting them, and risking rejection in exchange for the possibility of real relationships and acceptance.
I’ve learned that being the good person at the bad place doesn’t make you a hero, it makes you complicit.
My best advice from a crazy decade in this business is this: Be authentic and have good intentions. Embrace what makes you different, but understand that certain spaces can’t handle different — they didn’t sign up for it. Don’t apologize for that — find where you belong.
And don’t let something stupid like getting fired talk you out of your better instincts. History will prove you right. And in my case, it absolutely has.
PS — There’s one more takeaway that has been rolling around in my brain since I originally published this article on Facebook. I received so many comments from friends and acquaintances who had been through a similar experience, had similar outcomes or just wanted to share appreciation for the article. But some of the comments — things like, “I’m so glad you found a company that appreciates you,” and, “Thrilled you found a new home,” — miss a crucial point.
If you derive your value from your employer, your title or your salary, you’re doing it wrong.
Your value does not come from the employer who employs you, nor for that matter the lover who loves you, the neighborhood or tribe you live in, the car you drive or the brands you buy. Your value is intrinsic to you, no one gives it to you and you simply can’t let anyone take it away. You must cherish it, nurture it, protect it and look for opportunities to share it with other people.